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Health and Wellness Gives Student a New Beginning With Her Career

UW Online Collaboratives February 12, 2015
Jessica Waytashek

Editor’s note: The following blog post is about a UW Health and Wellness Management bachelor’s graduate. We are no longer admitting new students to the bachelor’s program. For more information about the UW Master’s in Health and Wellness Management program, click here.

“Mom. Wife. Personal Trainer. Marathon Runner. Fitness & Health Advocate.”

After reading Jessica Waytashek’s ten-word Twitter description, it’s hard to believe that she could fit anything more into her busy life. But she’s also a student in the University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management program, set to earn her bachelor’s degree this spring.

What’s even more impressive is that Jessica has already landed a job as the health and wellness coordinator for Mills Fleet Farm. She was originally hired as a benefits specialist, but the company created a new position for her last May after considering her interests and soon-to-be degree. At the moment, she is designing a corporate wellness program, which includes health risk assessments and biometric screenings.

Jessica loves it.

“If you are looking for a career that will make a difference in people’s lives, choose health and wellness. The University of Wisconsin Health and Wellness Management program is awesome—I would recommend it to anyone.”

Healthy beginnings

Jessica was always interested in fitness, and in troubled times, found that jogging relieved the stress she was feeling. “You don’t realize what exercise can do for you until you try it,” she says. “Now I run with my family and do training on the side.”

Two years ago, she became a personal trainer. She runs marathons—so far ten half and two full ones—and starting this spring, will pace marathons for the Minnesota Pacers team. She is a busy woman. Together with her husband, she raises three boys, ages 16, 10, and 3.

An early career in logistics and inventory management showed her that business management was not for her. It left her feeling unfulfilled. That’s when she started a running club at work, which interested some of her coworkers. The company she worked for didn’t offer a corporate wellness program, “so essentially I ran one from my desk in my spare time.”

Jessica with her family at the finish line of an event.
Jessica, right, with family at the finish line.

Jessica did some research about health and wellness professionals, and explored educational opportunities in the field. “I found that the job requirements matched the competencies taught in the UW Health and Wellness Management program.”

The program was exactly what she was looking for.

Online, but not alone

Jessica says she would not have been able to earn the degree she wanted in Brainerd, Minnesota. No brick-and-mortar schools in the area offered a health and wellness program, and moving to the Twin Cities was out of the question. With strong commitments to both work and family, the big draw of the UW Health and Wellness Management program was that it is completely online.

For Jessica, two things stand out as her favorite parts of the UW program.

“I can study at night, when I have time during the day, or on weekends.”

Assignments, like the instruction, are online. Some are essays, some are multiple choice, and some are group presentations. Though they may seem odd in an online program, group projects are the most helpful assignments, Jessica says.

In an upper-level course called Employee Health and Well-Being, Jessica and her group created a wellness program proposal. “It really highlighted some of the struggles we could face in the workplace—coordinating schedules, agreeing on the content and design, and sharing responsibilities.”

One is the learning management system, called Desire 2 Learn (D2L), where students find assignments, exams, and all other course information. “Its up-to-date calendars help me stay organized.”

But what Jessica likes best is her instructors’ real-world knowledge and expertise in health and wellness. Sometimes the highly credentialed instructors have students discuss current articles or papers so they can analyze real-life scenarios. Jessica says everything she learns is current and applicable to managing a corporate wellness program. She enjoys the interactions she has with faculty, as well as their dedication and responsiveness. “I emailed an instructor on Thanksgiving, and he replied to me that day.”

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Building a corporate wellness program

The wellness program at Mills Fleet Farm is still in its early stages. Employees can participate in health events to earn a discount on their health insurance. Jessica plans wellness challenges to keep them engaged, with incentives such as free Fitbit activity trackers.

Getting people to join and stay engaged can be tough. One of the most useful things she has learned in the UW Health and Wellness Management program is about behavior change.

“I’m reaching out to all employees—not just the healthiest ones who have the most interest. Not everyone is receptive to exercise or weight loss. Understanding behavior change and people’s mentalities helps me cater the program to every person, no matter what stage they are at.”

One woman in the program has lost 37 pounds. For her, the program provides focus and accountability, especially when logging meals. “Having someone there for encouragement has helped her make positive changes in her life,” says Jessica.

Seeing these small but important victories is what Jessica loves. To her, building a corporate wellness program is not just a job—it’s a passion.

Jessica is now a Digital Health Coach at Omada Health.

To find out more about how you can pursue your dream job, visit the UW Health and Wellness Management website.

Programs: Health and Wellness Management